Conley stood at the McKenzie house, his hand poised to ring the doorbell. When the door opened, Ron McKenzie squinted at him in the mid-morning sunshine.
Pete. I’m kind of busy right now. What can I do for you?”
can invite me in.” Conley had already pushed his big body past the smaller man . Ron shut the door behind him. “Have you heard from Paige yet?”
shook his head. “ I was going to call the church again. Maybe the secretary just didn’t know about the retreat.” Maybe….”
put his hand on Ron’s shoulder.
grabbed Pete’s hand, his body convulsed in a sob. “I don’t know what to think. Yes, I know she didn’t
go to a retreat. I keep hearing what Mary asked me... about another man. Maybe that’s what it is. Things haven’t
been good between us for awhile. I thought it was because she was depressed, I mean...no desire , always tired or angry.”
Stone just left my house. His wife is missing, too. Since last night. Ron, Paige said some things to Mary when she was at our house...”
don’t want to think she’d be part of anything like what you’re thinking. Pete...this is Paige we’re talking about.”
hate to think it too, buddy, but if she has gone off the ...if she’s not thinking right...well, you said it yourself: She’s had a miraculous recovery...and
Satan counterfeits miracles.”
going to call the church again. I don’t know what else to do.” Ron picked up the phone and punched in the number.
Pete’s eyebrow raised and Ron shrugged.
dialed it probably twenty times today. Just didn’t talk.” A pause followed, then Ron’s head jerked almost
imperceptibly. “Yes...My name is Ron McKenzie. I called the other day about a women’s retreat?”
drummed his fingers on the table top while Ron listened to the other end of the conversation.
gave Pete the thumbs-up “She’s transferring me to the pastor.”
Yes, my name is Ron McKenzie. My wife’s attending your church’s women’s retreat...”
put his hand over the mouthpiece. “He’s checking his records.”
Thank you, Pastor... I see...Yes, we’ve been concerned too...All right. Goodbye.”
hung up and stood, seemingly lost in thought. When he finally spoke, his voice was strained . “He said the ladies left Saturday morning for the retreat.
Said he hoped it would help Paige
achieve some stability in her life. She’s been getting very close to some radical elements in the church body. He’s worried about her.”
didn’t believe him?”
Pete. Why’d the secretary transfer my call? Yesterday she didn’t know there was a retreat and today she transfers my call to the preacher right away.”
Ron sat down on the footstool
and ran his fingers through his short hair.
reached toward him, but drew his hand back as the phone rang. Ron snatched up the receiver.
I see. Thank you, Bill. I’ll come pick it up.”
McKenzie’s shoulders sagged. He hunched over, his head in his hands. “That was Bill Mason. Paige took the convertible to Conoco for routine servicing.
He says it’s not due for another
month. She told the attendant she’d pick it up by Tuesday, but they’re swamped and he’d like me to come get it. Pete, why would she take it
in without telling me? And why take it in now? Why not wait ‘till it’s due?”
don’t know. But there could be something in the car to tell us what’s going on. Let’s go get it.”
they arrived at the service station, Bill Mason, the manager, apologized for not being able
to keep the car. “Sorry, but you see how it is. We’re swamped.”
Pete followed Ron, in the red convertible, back to the Conley house. “Put the garage door down. In case anyone
is watching our house, we don’t want them to know we found the car.” Ron pressed the button and the door slid
shut.The car’s rear door creaked as he pulled it back and ran his hand over the leather seat. Pete stretched across
the front passenger side, reaching under the driver’s seat, sweeping the mat with his hand.
“Hey, I’ve found something.” He jerked up, into the steering wheel, hitting the steering column with his head.
The piece of paper floated to the seat.
“What is it?” Ron sat up, leaning forward to see.
“It’s a Wal-Mart receipt. From Thursday. Rope, a box of candles, two gallons of distilled water, food...”
“Oh geeze, Pete. Paige took her.”
Pete sat, studying the paper for another minute. “She didn’t leave town.”
“She bought all this stuff, hid the car at Conoco, and gave you that story to cover herself. She never left Denver.”
“You’d know better than I would, bud... Think.”
“Let’s start with the church.”
“What time is it? I need to talk to Phil Stone by one. If I don’t, he’ll go to the police. I’ve
got to convince him that we can find them quicker, without going back to square one with the cops.” Pete rolled his
wrist and squinted at the timepiece. “. Let’s get going.”
The drive to the church took half an hour. The freeway was packed with people headed west into the mountains. At last, they saw
the exit, left traffic and drove down a narrow street. Cars were parked on both sides, leaving barely a path for them to maneuver.
Ron saw the sign first: white rectangle, a blue dove stretched across it with black words proclaiming “Hope Tabernacle”.
And underneath the dove, in smaller letters : “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
The church parking lot was empty, but an organ wailed inside, and the door was open. The musician , oblivious to their presence,
bounced on the organ bench in time to the music. His feet hovered over the pedals, toe down, then heel. Even in practice, the instrument was cranked to its highest
Ron walked up the aisle and tapped the organist on his back. “Excuse me, is anyone...is the pastor here?”
The music hung in the hair, reverberating off the walls. “ Is the pastor here?” Ron repeated.
“Will be at about three-thirty, . Prayer meeting for the evening service.”
“Is anyone else here?” Pete stepped up onto the platform.
“The church secretary, and I saw a deacon wandering around a bit ago. I wouldn’t know if he’s still here. I think
it was Brother Wilson, though. You’d probably find him back in that office off the narthex, if he’s still in the building.
“Thanks. We’ll check.” Pete took the three stairs in one jump.The sound of their steps was masked by the swell of
the organ as it resumed its throbbing. Nearing the front of the church, they caught a glimpse of a man hurrying out the front door. By the time they reached the entrance, he was
getting into a gray sedan. He looked at them, let his gaze flit over the parking lot and then rest on the two again.
“I recognize that man.” Ron said. “He was on some kind of committee with Paige.” Ron pushed
the door open and ran onto the graveled lot. The gray sedan sped off, throwing up rocks and dirt in its wake.
me see your cell.” Pete held out his hand to receive the small phone Ron handed him. He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and dialed the number
written on it.
Pete Conley. Look, we’re at Hope Tabernacle. I think we’ve stumbled onto something. We’ll be back at your
place in a little under an hour.”
on my way out.” Phil sounded out of breath. “Maxine, Sorkin’s other nurse, says she’s sure he knows more than he’s saying. I’m meeting
her at the doc’s.”
be there. Give me his address.” Pete wrote the numbers under his other scribbling on the paper and handed it to Ron. “Change of plans.”